Book Review: Sex and Sexuality in Ancient Rome




When you think of Ancient Rome, what often comes to mind is debauchery coupled with almost puritanical morals. Orgies. Vestal Virgins. Nero and Caligula. You know, the juicy stuff that peppered both HBO and PBS. But what was the truth? Is it closer to the sex fueled fantasies of 1970s X-rated films and pearl clutching Christian saints? Or is it the dry and politics heavy shenanigans of I, Claudius? The truth is amusingly revealed in this really fun historical quick-read by LJ Trafford.


First off, I need to level with you. I got this book because of the cover. This is one of my favorite paintings in the history of ever (Lorenzo Lotto’s Venus and Cupid) and every time I go to the MET in NYC I have to spend some time communing with it. It’s just that bonkers and fun and faboo. (I have a thing for odd Renaissance and Medieval art.) So I should have been clued in that by selecting this picture the book itself is also just as fun and whimsical as the painting, and like the painting there is a whole lot more going on when you scratch the surface. Using primary sources of the day, Trafford explains that like many cultures and civilizations that there was nuance and hypocrisy when it came to Ancient Roman views on sex and sexuality. And that like many ancient (and let’s face it, modern) civilizations that the expectations differed between classes and genders.


The book is written in an amazingly readable format, and I often found myself laughing out loud at several turns of phrase. I managed to read this book while undergoing treatment for two different kinds of cancer and it was just the distraction I needed. The author was a tour guide in a previous life and it shows. The way the history and primary resources are presented are geared for a lay audience who wants to learn more after binging HBO’s Rome or Masterpiece Theater’s I, Claudius. Readers do need to be aware that there are a lot of swear words, but this shouldn’t be surprising considering the graffiti that has survived from the period. It can be shocking if you think of Rome as a bunch of stuffy senators and pearl-clutching early Christians. But Rome is/was a very earthy and messy place (often literally) and this book doesn’t shy away from that. I honestly enjoyed it.

Five Stars.


If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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I received an ARC via NetGalley.

**Review delayed due to cancer.


#bookreview #fivestarreview #nonfiction #history #ljtrafford #triggerwarnings

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